The real cause of Lyme disease
Lyme disease is one of the most common tick-borne diseases in the world. Contrary to popular belief, ticks do not cause Lyme disease. Lyme disease is caused by the bacterial spirochetes of the genus Borrelia--most commonly Borrelia burgdorferi in North America--which is transmitted by the bite of an infected tick.
Some ticks don’t carry Lyme disease
Not all ticks carry Borrelia burgdorferi. In North America, only Ixodes scapularis (black legged tick or deer tick) and Ixodes pacificus (western black-legged tick) can transmit Lyme disease. Other species of ticks have been found to transmit Lyme disease in Europe and Asia.
Species affected by Lyme disease
Lyme Disease, known medically as Lyme borreliosis, can affect people, dogs and occasionally cats. People and pets cannot get Lyme disease directly from an infected dog. However, a dog can bring an infected tick home where it could potentially spread Lyme disease to others in the household.
Transmission time for Lyme disease
When an infected tick bites, it takes twenty-four to forty-eight hours for the tick to transmit Borrelia burgorferi, the spirochete that causes Lyme disease. That means you can prevent the transmission of Lyme disease by removing ticks promptly. Check yourself and your pets for ticks--especially after visiting areas known to have ticks--and remove them immediately.
The tick’s environment
Hiking in the woods is not the only way to encounter disease-causing ticks. You and your pets can come into contact with Lyme disease in your own backyard since landscaping and shrubbery can
harbor ticks. In addition, suburban encroachment and loss of habitat have brought deer into closer contact. Deer are important animal hosts for ticks, and tick density has been found to parallel the deer population.
The symptoms of Lyme disease
The signs and symptoms of Lyme disease can be subtle or nonexistent in animals. Unlike people, animals do not develop erythema migrans (the bullseye rash seen at the tick bite site). Common signs include fever, joint swelling or pain, shifting leg lameness or stiffness. Affected animals may also be lethargic and anorexic. Since the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease can be subtle and difficult to recognize, if your pet has been exposed to ticks, speak with your veterinarian to find out if screening tests are appropriate.
Lyme disease by region
You don’t have to be from the Northeast to get Lyme disease. While the majority of cases were reported in Northeast, Upper Midwest and Pacific Northwest according to the CDC, Lyme disease has been reported in every state except Hawaii since 2003. Speak with your veterinarian or see the Pet Health Network prevalence map for more information about the incidence of Lyme disease in your area.
Diagnosing Lyme disease
How is Lyme disease diagnosed? If your veterinarian suspects Lyme disease, she will probably order a screening test. She may run the IDEXX SNAP® 4Dx® Plus Test, which screens for Ehrlichia, Anplasma and heartworm in addition to Lyme disease. If the test is positive, it means your pet was infected with the spirochete Borrelia but does not necessarily mean your pet has Lyme disease. Your veterinarian may order additional tests to confirm the diagnosis depending on your pet’s risk factors.
Treatment of Lyme disease
Fortunately, Lyme disease is usually a treatable disease. If your pet has Lyme disease, don’t panic. Lyme Disease is treated with antibiotics—typically doxycycline for 4 weeks. If your pet is infected with Lyme disease, your veterinarian will discuss the appropriate treatment and help you and your pet get through it.
Prevention of Lyme disease
The best treatment is always prevention. You can lower your pet’s risk of getting Lyme disease by using tick preventatives. If you live in an endemic area or your dog is at increased risk--such as hunting dogs or dogs that hike in the woods frequently--your veterinarian may recommend vaccinating for Lyme disease. Speak with your veterinarian to discuss how to protect your pets from Lyme disease.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Beware the Bug
More about Lyme
Protecting Your Dog From Lyme Disease
Can Lyme Disease in Dogs Spread to People?
Lyme Disease Prevention and Treatment in Dogs Or learn more about dogs and parasites >